On Ireland: What to Read

Around St. Patrick’s Day, there is so much terrible writing about Ireland. My small act of defiance is to share some of my favorite writing about Ireland, stories that are transportive and evoke not just the place and the sights but the people and the feel that make the country so special.

Why Western Ireland is the Best Place to Be Sad by Chris Colin, AFAR magazine. So much of today’s travel writing has a high gloss finish that doesn’t reflect the realities of travel or the reasons why people get up and go. Sometimes we travel because we’re happy, but sometimes we travel because we’re sad. This mold breaking story is about relationships, isolated places, poetry, and taking the time to figure things out. It captures something about Ireland that can be difficult to put into words.

In Ireland, Chasing the Wandering Soul of Yeats by Russell Shorto, New York Times. Also set in the west of Ireland, this story is inspired by one the most popular poems by W. B. Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” You don’t need to know anything about Yeats or poetry to eagerly follow this writer on his journey. When he finally reaches the lake he writes, “I got out on the dock, sat cross-legged facing the island, and let the wind say what it had to say.”

Irish Journal by Heinrich Boll. This short book describes time spent traveling in Ireland in the 1950s, after World War II. He writes of timeless conversations in pubs, of abandoned villages, and of observations of the countryside. “Thoughts on Irish Rain” is worthy of an entire chapter and begins with: “The rain here is absolute, magnificent, and frightening.”

Ireland in Mind, An Anthology. Nonfiction, fiction, and poetry are collected in this anthology, including writing by voices as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Frank McCourt, Edna O’Brien, James Joyce, Maeve Brennan, and more. It’s a compelling mix of stories from different points in history. This book would make a fine companion on any trip to Ireland.


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